The Sandiganbayan’s Special Fifth Division has denied the prosecution’s plea to drop former Makati General Services Department Head Ernesto Aspillaga as a respondent so that he can testify against former mayor Elenita Binay.
The prosecution wants Aspillaga to become a state witness against Binay and several others facing graft charges over the alleged anomalous award of a deal to the Office Gallery International, Inc. for the supply of panel fabric partition and connector brackets for the furnishing of the new city hall in 1999.
“Here, while the prosecution suggests that Aspillaga be discharged based on Sec. 17, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure, considering that he was included as one of the accused in the instant case, the Court believes that the said provision of Sec. 17, Rule 119 of the RRCP is inapplicable. The admission of accused Aspillaga as witness in a legislative investigation, pursuant to Sec. 4 of R.A. No. 6981, permits the application of the provision of Sec. 14, Rule 110 of the RRCP and not the discharge of the accused under Sec. 17, Rule 119 of the RRCP,” the court said.
RA 6981 is the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act.
Associate Justice Roland Jurado, who leads the court’s Fifth Division, penned the ruling which was concurred in by Associate Justices Samuel Martires and Geraldine Faith Econg.
In August 2015, the prosecution asked that Aspillaga be dropped from the case after he was admitted to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) witness protection program.
Aspillaga, when he appeared before the Senate Blue Ribbon Sub-Committee in September 2014, said that no real bidding occurred while he was chief of Makati’s general services department from 1996 to 2003.
According to the prosecution, “there is absolute necessity” to discharge Aspillaga “as he will provide direct evidence that the bidding was simulated or rigged upon orders of accused Elenita Binay.”
But Binay’s camp argued that the allegation that she ordered the supposed simulation of the bidding was not included in the charge sheet.
The defense said that “such utter falsehoods do support not the assertions of the Amended Information, but a completely new theory being advanced the Prosecution at this late in the proceedings, thereby validating the earlier submission of herein Accused that the Prosecution is uncertain about the theory of their case against herein Accused.”
In January 2016, the court deferred ruling on the prosecution’s plea, pending a separate hearing on the matter. This prompted Binay to file a motion for reconsideration.
In October, the court dismissed for insufficient evidence a graft case filed against Binay and several others in connection with the alleged anomalous award to Asia Concept International, Inc. of the procurement of office partitions and furniture amounting to P21.7 million for the New Makati City Hall Building in 2000.